Sunday, May 6, 2018

ഈ.മ.യൗ (Ee.Ma.Yau) (2018)

Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Writer: P.F. Matthews
DOP: Shyju Khaled
Cast: Chemban Vinod Jose, Vinayakan, Pauly Valsan, Dileesh Pothan
Language: Malayalam

A day and a night in a fishing village following the death of an old guy, to whom his son promised a funeral worthy of a King's.

The first half of the film moves in a sedate manner and I was kind of underwhelmed by it at halfway point. The pace picks up considerably in the second half and by the end you understand why the former half had to be that way. The entire premise of thet film can be told in about three sentencess but the trick is to it do it in an engaging manner in a different setting. After the film got released, the maker of an indie-film called Shavam accused LJP of plagiarism. Even without watching that film, I can safely say that the accusation is without merit because LJP films are never about storylines but always about their treatment. It is possibly career best performance from Chemban and Vinayakan and Dileesh are cast against type.

Technical excellence is a given in Lijo Jose Pellissery films and let me get it out of the way by reiterating it. Be it the night sequences which has a neon feel in some places or the rainy sequences during the day with the noise from sea being a constant background throughout. Music is used sparingly but very effectively, especially during the closing credits which had an incredible effect on me. The idea is to place the viewer in the same atmosphere as its characters and they manage to do it quite effectively. It is basically a dark comedy but the ending just pulls the rug out from underneath you all of a sudden in a way that cannot be explained. Not sure if all will have the same experience.

I can see quite a lot of people hating it if they go with the expectation that you are going to watch a typical LJP film. The reaction could be similar to what a few people had for Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum after watching it with a Maheshinte Prathikaram hangover. P.F. Matthews is the writer of Doordarshan's 'Mikhaelinte Santhathikal' and the award winning film 'Kuttisranku', which I couldn't watch past thirty minutes of it. In my opinion it is LJP's second best film with Angamaly Diaries of course being the top. There are throwbacks to it as well as Amen in this film. He is getting better and better with each film and Double Barrel clusterfuck seems to have taught him the importance of having correct length for a film with both the films after that clocking just two hours.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Uncle (2018)

Director: Girish Damodar
Writer: Joy Mathew
DOP: Azhagappan
Cast: Mammooty, Karthika Muralidharan, Joy Mathew, Muthumani
Language: Malayalam

A college girl is stranded in Ooty following a strike in her college. By chance, a friend of her father in a Mercedes spots her and offers her a ride to Calicut as he is also going that way. When her father learns about this he is uneasy because his friend is bit of a flirt. Film switches between the car drive and the worried father at home.

In contrast with the reaction of the father, the mother is pretty cool about the situation. This is because women usually see these men under domestic settings and don't hear what all things are being said in an all-male environment. There is sufficient grey in Mammooty's head and in his portrayal of the character for us to suspect his intentions.  Some of the reviews have criticized this aspect of the film accusing it of playing the audience for cheap suspense. I don't agree with that since I do think he was playing it straight and that was how he felt towards the girl, not really paternal or platonic. Trailer reminded me of Kuttetan, which is kind of a landmark film in Malayalam for the brave treatment of its protagonist who has a thing for teenage girls. To be honest, it would've been genius if it was Mammooty back as Kuttetan in this film because the ending then would've been totally ambiguous, like the ending in Kuttetan. Missed opportunity there.

Overall the film is a very good watch with some lag in some places. They could've easily shaved off some twenty minutes from it. Karthika Muralidharan is playing a role which could've easily derailed the film if she didn't get it right but she does. There is some unnecessary ass-licking of the present ruling regime of Kerala which could've been avoided. When it comes to moral policing in Kerala, the communists are no different.

Rating: 3.5/5

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writer: Lynne Ramsay, Jonathan Ames
DOP: Thomas Townend
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Roberts, John Doman

A traumatized veteran, unafraid of violence, tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe's nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered.

It is Lynne Ramsay's take on the hit man genre and it is a genre-bender. It is brutal at times and the body-count is high but the focus is not much on the violence. We piece together through several flashes that happen over the course of the film that he had an abusive father, suffers from PTSD due to his involvement in gulf war and the FBI job that he took after also only added to his nightmares. He's on the edge and quite suicidal. Choices that he makes as an adult is because of the abuse he suffered as a kid but they don't really help him to overcome it.

Lynne Ramsay confirmed that the use of Psycho and Shawshank Redemption on the film was totally off-the-cuff but they do perfectly suit the film. Then again, it doesn't really matter whether the director intended or not, it is what you make of it that counts. Kevin Spacey is supposed to have been sexually abused as a child by his father and he kind of repeated the same, if the allegations are true. I do think something like that is going on in this as well. The first time rescue of the girl gave that vibe and he seems to be fighting against it.

Music for the film was done by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and it is an integral part of the film. It gives such a cool vibe to the film in some places. I've only seen one other film in Lynne Ramsay's short but long-spanning filmography and that was 'We need to talk about Kevin', which was quite excellent and fucked up. This is much more of a fun watch, relatively.

Rating: 4.25/5

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Phantom Thread (2017)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
DOP: Paul Thomas Anderson?
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

Set in 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes her muse and lover. 

After his latest two outings, The Master and Inherent Vice, which were not that straight forward narrative wise this one from Paul Thomas Anderson is much more of a simpler one. Inherent Vice with a drugged up private investigator as protagonist was an attempt to get us the audience to feel the same amount of confusion as he must have been feeling. It is a film that I enjoyed, but like most of his recent films, it demands multiple viewings which I haven't quite managed yet. Daniel Day-Lewis, in what he declared to be his final role, is the perfectionist dressmaker who likes quiet and fulsome breakfasts which can make or break his day. He lives with his work partner and sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) and we see in the initial sequence, her advising him to dump his muse after a tension filled breakfast. He goes to the country for a break and meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his new muse and lover. What we see over the course of the film is whether or not Alma can break the cycle. She has her own ways and the ending of the film can make or break it for most of the audience. It worked for me and reminded me of 'Blood Simple' in an odd sort of a way. It certainly left me feeling high.

One gripe I have with the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino is that they have resorted to the safety of period with their latest films. This is a film which could have been very well set in the contemporary times, even with the same profession of fashion at its center. It could have even more of an impact. If you also look at Daniel Day-Lewis' filmography in terms of films that he is famous for, most have been set in period as well. It is just an easy way out in my opinion. Despite these misgivings in a general sense, Phantom Thread is a pretty great watch. There is no credited DOP for the film as the usual ones who work with PTA were busy with other projects and he himself is said to have managed the camera persons.

Rating: 4.25/5

Monday, April 2, 2018

സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യം അർദ്ധരാത്രിയിൽ (Swathanthryam Ardharathriyil) (2018)

Director: Tinu Pappachan
Writer: Dileep Kurian
DOP: Gireesh Gangadharan
Cast: Antony Varghese, Chemban Vinod, Vinayakan, Titto Wilson
Language: Malayalam

As was hinted by the trailer and the title of the film, which translates as 'Freedom at Midnight', it is a jail break genre piece which works as an action thriller. You got the typical protagonist who was hard done by the justice system and is a first time prisoner. The usual hard adjustment to jail life is portrayed as well as him making some friends and enemies in the prison which will serve the story down the line. I'm not complaining about the clichés here as it is anyway a genre film and how such films can standout is either due to its making quality or some genre subversions. They are going for the former here and it is indeed technically very sound.

In terms of backstory, we are getting it only for the chief protagonist and it is quite poorly done in the first half with a very rushed half-arsed feel to it. It is done through several flashbacks and couple of cringe inducing green screen scenes. If those green screen scenes were done even more poorly, it could've been interpreted as an artistic choice. Film picks up once he reaches the jail. Both Vinayakan and Chemban Vinod are excellent in their roles with adding some great comedy value. There are several scenes and particularly the ones involving Lijo Jose Pellissery, the director's mentor, which would remind one of Sin City in terms of style and colour/lighting tones. The action scenes, mostly in rain, are very well done and it is another one after Angamaly Diaries for Gireesh Gangadharan to show off in a good way. Many of the people from that film is involved here as well with Chemban and LJP serving as executive producers.

Overall it's a pretty good watch with some of the rawness associated with LJP's earlier works like Nayakan and City of God. Script could've been a lot tighter and the plot relies on too many convenient coincidences. They could have made the backstory a lot less complicated. Still, great to see such efforts coming from Malayalam.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, March 26, 2018

All The Money In The World (2017)

Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: David Scarpa
DOP: Dariusz Wolski
Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg

The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty lll and the desperate attempt by his mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.

I had no idea that the film was based on real events and it was quite strange that I wasn't aware of the name Getty, considering the fact that he was the first person to become a dollar billionaire. He had made his money by building oil tankers  that are used to bring oil from Saudi Arabia to the West. He had married five times and had maintained a harem. He was into his 80s when the events depicted in the film happened. I sussed out the basic premise of the film from the trailer and since I didn't know it was based on true events, had no idea how it was going to play out which is always good.

The film made news when Ridley Scott decided to recast Christopher Plummer as Jean Paul Getty in the aftermath of Kevin Spacey allegations, after having almost finished post-production. Plummer was the original choice for Ridley but had cast Spacey due to his marketability, ha ha. I'm glad he made the change because Spacey as the character in his 80s with prosthetics didn't look good at all. Christopher Plummer is amazing in the role as is Michelle Williams as the distressed but strong mother.

The only complaint I've about the film is its dull look due to the colour choices. The opening scenes of it is like a homage to Fellini films. Ridley started directing films late, as a 40-year-old, and it is ridiculous how hard he is working in his late 70s. He is kind of hit and miss in terms of conversion and this one is a hit.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Director: S. Craig Zahler
Writer: S. Craig Zahler
DOP: Benji Bakshi
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins

Four men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers.

It is a straight up Western set after the end of civil war and to be more specific in the 1890s. I didn't know that the concept of frontier towns existed in US that late. The white Americans don't make much distinction between the usual Red Indian tribes that they encounter and the cannibalistic clan that they are dealing with in this film. The colonization of America is these days depicted in an overly apologetic manner as opposed to the whitewashing that was there in an earlier era. It has kind of swung back too much the other way as if all the Red Indian population was wiped off in a deliberate manner ignoring the role played by the diseases that their immune system was not equipped to deal with and the natural conflicts that would have occurred when settlers came in. Applying today's standards to historical events have got a lot to do with it.

This film focuses on the frontier conflict aspect with characters that are true to their historical settings. There is no attempt to sugarcoat things or be too much apologetic about it. This can cause it to be an uncomfortable viewing for many and it is especially famous for one particular gory scene. To be fair they give an early warning with the opening scene itself. It is a good watch overall even though it kind of peters out towards the end. The character played by Richard Jenkins is quite annoying as he was in 'The Shape of Water' as well. Video and audio being out of sync in the print that I watched didn't help matters.

Rating: 3.25/5